JERUSALEM: US President Barack Obama said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s presence at Shimon Peres’s funeral on Friday was a reminder of the “unfinished business of peace.”
At the start of his eulogy for Nobel Peace Prize winner Peres in Jerusalem, Obama mentioned Abbas, who was seated in the front row, and said his “presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”
Obama said later, speaking of Peres, that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people, he would say.”
“He believed that the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians too had a state of their own.
“Of course we gather here in the knowledge that Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled.”
Obama said Peres “understood in this war-torn region where too often Arab youth are taught to hate Israel from an early age … just how hard peace would be.”
Peres held nearly every major office in Israel, serving twice as prime minister and as president, a mainly ceremonial role, from 2007 to 2014.
He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role as foreign minister in negotiating the Oslo accords, which envisioned an independent Palestinian state.
But there has been little progress in peace efforts in recent years and there have been growing warnings that the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict is slipping away.
Obama has been unable to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his eight years in office. A US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014 and peace efforts have been comatose since then.
There has been speculation that Obama may seek to somehow lay out his vision for a resolution to the decades-old conflict before leaving office in January.
Israel is concerned about the possibility, worried that Obama may support or decide not to veto a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict that it opposes.
He has had a testy personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government is seen as the most right-wing in the country’s history.
His administration has frequently criticized Israel over persistent settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.
Obama however sat next to Netanyahu during the funeral, and the two men have put aside their differences in recent months to agree a decade-long $38 billion defense aid package for Israel.
They spoke together after the service as they walked to Peres’s graveside for his burial.
Abbas shook hands and spoke briefly with Netanyahu before the start of the funeral, a rare occurrence.
The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu was in 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then. AFP